If you’re a film fan, the phrase “Martin Scorsese passion project” has to get you excited, or at the very least, incredibly curious.
The movie Scorsese has spent decades trying to make is “Silence” and, while it absolutely delivers and ranks as one of the best movies of 2016, it makes its mark in ways you might not expect.
Completely present are Scorsese’s knack for storytelling and unflinching eye for the more brutal aspects of human nature. But when you think of Scorsese you are likely to first think of his sweeping camera, vibrant energy, and epic scope from his hallmark movies like “Raging Bull,” Goodfellas” and “Gangs of New York.”
“Silence” works on you in a different way. It is a subtle, personal film that explores faith and devotion by walking that rarely-traversed fine line between being preachy and dismissive.
The movie is set in 17th century Japan at a time where Christianity was banned and Christians were strongly persecuted. The story centers on two young Portuguese priests, Father Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield) and Father Garrpe (Adam Driver), who travel to Japan to find their mentor Father Ferreira (Liam Neeson), who is missing and rumored to have recanted his faith and to be living among the Japanese people.
Once in Japan with only an unreliable guide, Kichijiro (Yosuke Kubozuka), to lead the way, the two priests have their faith tested over and over again as they are smuggled from village to village, bearing witness to the horrible tortures endured by faithful Christian peasants along the way.
The boldest thing about “Silence” might be how it doesn’t let anyone off the hook; not the Japanese authorities, not the Catholic Church and, most importantly, not the characters.
While not quite as controversial as his other film with deeply religious themes, “The Last Temptation of Christ,” Scorsese plunges directly into some uncomfortable waters. He challenges the audience to consider faith from all angles and consider the ramifications of unwavering devotion.
Garfield and Driver are two of Hollywood’s finest young actors and both are up to the task of shouldering the weight of this movie, especially Garfield who delivers a touching, layered performance.
This is one of those movies where a lot of what you get out of it depends on what you take in with you. If you have a staunchly rigid opinion about religion at one end or the other, then you are likely to see “Silence” as nothing more than competent at best and irksome at worst.
But if you, like the vast majority of humanity, exist somewhere in the squishy middle, you’ll likely see “Silence” as a beautiful, haunting meditation that gives you permission to ask unanswerable questions. At least, that’s how I saw it.
“Silence” is rated R for some disturbing violent content.